Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

“Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics”

This week I got a survey from our real estate management firm, asking us how they are doing. As I filled it out, I had to smile. I have structured several surveys myself through the years. It is an art.

The first thing you need to know when you are putting a survey together is what you want the survey results to say. I’m a cynic. You can get a survey to show pretty much what you want it to show by choosing your questions carefully, limiting the ways a survey-taker can respond . . .thus the title. If you have an agenda, you can get the results you want.

Here is what our survey did not ask:

Do we communicate with you regularly and accurately? (Sometimes)

Do you understand what we are trying to communicate? (Sometimes we are laughing too hard to get it the first time)

Could our surveys use some work on grammar and spelling? (Oh YES)

When you submit a work request, do we respond and solve the problem in a timely manner? (Absolutely)

Given that the management, guards and maintenance team are all really nice people, are there ways in which we could improve our performance? (Yep)

If we could improve our performance in ONE way, what would you suggest? (Train the maintenance people well, supervise them closely, use checklists, and hold yourselves accountable for shortcomings.)

Hint: If you really want to structure an honest survey, have opened ended questions.

Before you ever take a survey, look through it and ask yourself “what end are they trying to achieve with this survey?” Many times, it is not the survey that matters at all (like online surveys) but getting your address and/or phone number so they can sell you something.

So I wanted to make sure I used the opening quote accurately, and Googled “damn lies and statistics.” Great results. Got the quote accurately, and got a fascinating article from BBC called How To Understand Statistics. Here is how the article opens:

The world is littered with statistics, and the average person is bombarded with five statistics a day.

1. Statistics can be misleading and sometimes deliberately distorting. There are three kinds of commonly recognised untruths:

Lies, damn lies and statistics.
– Mark Twain

This quote from Mark Twain is accurate; statistics are often used to lie to the public because most people do not understand how statistics work. The aim of this entry is to acquaint the reader with the basics of statistical analysis and to help them determine when someone is trying to pull a fast one.

Think about how stupid the average person is; now realise half of them are dumber than that.
– George Carlin

There are many books which teach statistics, but they are mostly big and heavy mathematical books, which cost a lot of money, and which may require a degree in the subject to understand anyway. For many years there has been a need for a

    Statistics for Dummies

book and in fact there is one, written by Deborah Rumsey. On the Internet information on how to understand statistics can be found, but the sites mostly cater for medical students who need to examine experimental drug studies, although a great online starting place is, which explains how to examine statistics for errors and how to create your own statistics correctly. . . . .

read more here.

January 20, 2007 - Posted by | Blogging, Communication, Customer Service, ExPat Life, Kuwait, Lies, Living Conditions, Social Issues, Statistics


  1. Carlin’s quote (and his point about averages) reminds me of something one of my college friends used to say: Be happy – you have more than the average number of arms.

    Some of the Damascus restaurants (all the Jaber Group restaurants, I think) went through a big survey phase (or craze) a year or two ago. As far as I could discern, what they wanted to achieve from the survey was the ability to say: we took a survey! but I filled them out carefully, regardless. my father always filled out restaurant and hotel surveys, saying: if they care enough to ask, I am willing to take the time to give them feedback on service/food/etc.

    I also remember a long ago screensaver from the Owlfishes’ Macintosh, which presented a rolling series of aphorisms across the screen. My favorite, which I only saw once, stated:

    a recent study has found that statistics have been shown to cause cancer in rats.

    Comment by adiamondinsunlight | January 21, 2007 | Reply

  2. […] Comment: Remember Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics where we talked about who structures the survey? It works the same for studies. The sponsor of this […]

    Pingback by Offices Full of Germs: Women the Worst « Here There and Everywhere | March 5, 2007 | Reply

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